I’ve been trying to find a good topic to write about for a while now. This offseason is so slow and the Yankees made their big move in December, so there’s been no news to discuss. I’ve started so many articles and scrapped them all. I couldn’t think of a good topic.
Until I got a very interesting message from another writer on the site.
“I’m actually in the process of writing an article about why NYY should add a starter and move Gray to the bullpen.”
Yeah, you read that right. I don’t know when the view on Sonny Gray changed, but it did.
I’m writing this now to put an end to the Sonny Gray hate. Gray is a great pitcher and it’s time to stop hating on him for no reason.
Now I’ll admit, after a quick discussion, he told me that he only mentions the “possibility of moving Gray to the pen” and that the main idea is how Gray didn’t pitch that well down the stretch and the Yankees still need to add another starter.
The point stands. He mentions Gray to the Bullpen.
*Stephen A Smith impression* Now that is just BLASPHEMOUS.
After the trade, Gray pitched well, but not great. He pitched to a 3.72 ERA in only 11 starts. The main thing to worry about is he had a 4.87 FIP and a 1.255 WHIP, which would be the highest and 2nd highest in his careers, respectively, over the course of a full season. This is a little worrisome, but moving from the big ballparks of the AL West to the Little League-esque ballparks of the AL East, he’s gonna struggle for a bit.
Gray received a decision in all 11 starts, losing 7 of them, but that’s not really his fault. Gray only gave up more than 2 earned runs (ERs) in 3 of the 11 starts, and the Yankees lost all 3. So in the 8 starts Gray let up 2 ER or less, the Yankees went 4-4. That’s the offenses fault. This is also an argument for why the “win” is a really stupid stat to measure a pitchers ability, but that’s for a different article.
His argument for why Gray should be moved to the bullpen is as followed: “He also only according to the metrics had his fastball and changeup both working in 1 of 11 starts and in September when he only faced AL East rivals had one of the worst months he’s had in a while, in his final 10 starts he gave up more homers than in his previous 22 combined.”
Here’s my response: Yeah, those stats are worrisome. But his changeup is by far his least-used pitch in his career and second least-used in 2017, and according to Fangraphs his changeup was the only pitch in 2017 he had that was below league average. So having both of his pitches working in the same starts seems not to matter much. Although without discrediting my writing colleague too much, that game was his best start as a Yankee so maybe it is a little important.
As for the home run issue, yes he gave up a quite a few bombs in 2017. He gave up 8 of his 11 Yankee home runs at home, and they were all pretty well hit, with only one of them scraping the wall. This is my biggest concern for Gray, but he did only pitch 117 innings the year before, so the potential fatigue and grind of the season might’ve led to him fade a bit down the stretch. A full spring training and season to get back in the swing of things should help his season long stamina.
Now time for the advanced stats. After the trade, Gray was worth 1.0 bWAR after the deal. A full season is roughly 34 starts, so that would put him on pace for just over 3 WAR, which would make him a top 30 starter in baseball, and just be reminded that this was the second worse season in Gray’s career.
A big concern for Gray was his huge spike in his FB%, jumping over 12% and smaller but also big decline in his GB% by just over 9% after the trade. However his soft, medium and hard hit %’s all stayed almost exactly the same, which relieves some worry. His jump in HR/FB% can also be attained to his increase in fly balls.
These stats do not bother me in the slightest. His O-Swing% (out-of-zone swing%), Z-Swing% (in-zone swing%), Swing%, O-Contact% (out-of-zone contact%), Z-Contact%(in-zone contact%), Contact%, Zone% (pitches in the strike zone) all remained almost exactly the same, with the biggest change in any of them is his Swing% dropping by 3%. 11 starts is a small sample size, and while it is a bit interesting and worrisome that his peripherals weren’t great, Gray is too good of a pitcher to let it bother anyone terribly.
Gray’s whole game is his offspeed pitches, and they can be beautiful.
First, his two-seam:
Next, his slider:
His changeup (from right before the trade):
And his curveball, which of course gets by Sanchez:
Lastly, his slider one more time just because it’s so beautiful:
If he can consistently throw his pitches like this, there’s no telling what this man can do.
Larry Rothschild is one of the best pitching coaches in the game and a full spring training with him should do Gray some good. A full season and two offseasons removed from his injuries will be helpful for Gray. Being able to work in the Yankees world class facilities and training staff will be more than helpful for Gray.
Gray has posted videos of him working hard and has said his goal is to have the best season of his career. Every pitcher says that, but for someone who has been one of the best in the league, taken a huge step back because of injury, is trying to get back there, it just feels more sincere. Gray has the ability to be an ace, which he has been before, and with the injuries in the rear-view mirror and the potential he has shown all his career, there is no reason not to expect an ace season from Gray. If that happens, Gray and Sev can be one of the best 1-2 punches in all of baseball.